The Daily Commentary
24 January 2002

Another Steel Maker Is Going Out of Business
And This Time It's Personal

Who will cover the cost of health care for more
than 100,000 retired steelworkers?

By Nick Markowitz Jr., Editor

It looks as though LTV Steel is a name that will soon vanish into the history of steel making. Formed when Jones & Laughlin and Republic Steel merged in the 1970's, it was seen as a rival to the mighty US Steel, but that was then and this is now.

When my father, along with 100,000 other steelworkers, retired from LTV, they were promised health care coverage as part of their retirement package, an agreement that had been worked out by the United Steel Workers Union. Steelworkers knew then that health care was a major worry as they became older. They knew that if they were lucky enough to make it to retirement that the chances were that they would end up with health ills due to the chemicals, emissions, and harsh working conditions that they were exposed to over the course of their employment. Unfortunately lifetime benefits will end in two months for them, unless a buyer can be found for LTV, a buyer who is willing to honor this contract.

LTV has become the latest victim in the steel industry due to many reasons and poor long-range planning, like so many steel makers before them. While the fall of LTV can be to some extent blamed on management and labor, environmentalists and Government over regulation has played an even bigger role in this company's demise.

The Pittsburgh Coke Processing Plant and it's 400 jobs, which was the last Pittsburgh division to close, was were my father spent the last of his 30+ years as an electrician. He made it to retirement before the plant was closed down two years ago after environmental rules made the rebuilding of the plant impossible.

When my father started in the mill, in the late 1950's, there were nearly 30,000 men toiling there. When I was a kid, Carson St. and 2nd Ave use to be lined with cars. But in the 1960's, as the environmental movement and a group called GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) came into being, the cars slowly disappeared, as did the jobs. I remember seeing the signs put up on many of the steel mill gates: "This Entrance and Department Permanently Closed."

Pittsburgh finally had clean air, but it had no jobs.

The final blow to the industry came with cheap steel imports from Japan, Brazil, etc.; plus the fact that many items that used steel as an ingredient no longer needed it. Many things today are made of plastic, which certainly drove nails in the coffin in which LTV now lies. This once proud industry, during this time, still made profits and it gave in to workers' high-wage demands. It also failed to reinvest in new steel making technologies. Instead, it put its profits into executives pockets, which sounded the death bell for many such companies. [Editor's Note: Sound hauntingly familiar to the recent Enron fiasco?]

Of course, Pittsburgh, like many towns, thought they could simply re-educate many steel workers for the Hi-Tech job market, but many in the mill were even lucky to have a high school diploma. Thus, re-education proved too much for many of them. In addition, to make matters even worse, these new high-tech jobs do not pay anywhere near what steelworkers are accustomed to making in the mills. Thus, many workers refused to retrain. Instead, they just kept waiting for the high paying steel mill jobs to come back--but they never did.

Others managed to find other kinds of jobs, but they found that they had to work double shifts to get by. The younger workers were the lucky ones, most of them being able to retrain for a high-tech job that pays well.

There was a case in the 1970's worthy of note, when former President Ronald Reagan was touring a local computer school. When the president was handed a resume of a steelworker retraining, the President took the time to find that steelworker a job with Radio Shack's repair division. This steelworker turned around about six months later, when the mill called him back, and left that Radio Shack job to go back making big bucks at making steel-but then he eventually lost this job anyway.

Around this same time I was working part time as a security guard, as I had just graduated from trade school and was looking for work. When I came into a furniture factory to find the guard, who was on before me, I discovered that he had left the plant, leaving it unguarded and unlocked. Here he had left the furniture factory because the steel mill had called him back and he had to be there that evening in order to regain it. He left me in a dangerous situation that evening, and yet he lost his job when the mills closed anyway. Then, he tried to go back to that security guard Job to make even a small wage, but he was denied the privilege because of the way he left that furniture factory unguarded.

The fact is, there are no longer ANY steel mills operating within the city of Pittsburgh. The only ones that are left exist outside of Pittsburgh. Some in the steel industry were lucky they went to Texas with the oil boom as machinists and welders, but when the oil boom went bang, so did their jobs.

In the 1970's, while going to trade school and working as a private security guard in a McDonald's in McKeesport Pa., across from US Steels Tube City Steel Pipes works, many steelworkers laughed at me for getting a High School diploma and going to trade school to further my education. They thought that I should do as they had done, quit school and go across the street to make $18.00 an hour with 13 weeks vacation for doing as little as pushing a broom. I was told with the oil boom, the plant would never close and there would always be work. Luckily I did not go for the money because that plant, plus many others, are now gone-but so is the McDonald's that, ironically, became an unemployment office.

In the 1980's, when US Steel shut down, the McKeesport, Homestead, Christy, Duquesne and other works, as well as many smaller steel reworking plants, also closed--like Hepinstall, Macintosh / Hemphill, Reliance, and LTV's Aliquippa Works and most of Pittsburgh Works. In all, the Pittsburgh area lost 150,000 steel-making and related jobs. Because of this the area went into a deep depression that it has never fully recovered from. But the story is the same in Bethlehem, Pa.; Youngstown, Oh.; Gary, Indiana; and everywhere Big Steel ruled the roost.

When the rest of the country saw record employment and came back from the recession in the 1990's, Pittsburgh and other manufacturing towns did not. There are still those who think steel will come back. But I do not see this happening for when any industry in this country shuts down and leaves for Mexico, or the Far East, these jobs are rarely recovered by the same industry.

[Editor's Note: Why should they bring these companies back when they can get their products made in other countries for a dollar an hour and yet bring them back into the U.S. without the usual tariffs to offset the difference?]

Those who toiled in these manufacturing jobs are the ones who get hit the hardest. Those Globalists that see America as the designer of high-tech goods and the buyer of goods from other countries, with 50 cent an hour labor, have never taken into account those laborers who they have hurt here. And now 100,000 retires will have to scramble to cover their health care costs they retired with--and for many this will not happen. Instead, it will have to be YOU and I, the taxpayers of this once proud manufacturing community called the United States.

My brothers and Myself will make sure our parents have health care, but many retires will not be so lucky. Also, their pensions will have to be picked up by the federal government. Pension Trust-which means more taxpayer money down the drain.

If we truly are to become a nation of consumers and high-tech Designers, then we must make sure our citizens are properly educated and have good paying jobs. When you close an industry down and make no contingency plans for the workers, who are many times under educated, you will no longer be productive consumers. When people cannot find work, how can they buy anyone's products? How will your own company survive if there are fewer and fewer people to buy your products or services? Henry Ford knew this and that is why he paid his workers a decent wage--so they could buy the very products they built, such as the Model-T Ford. Unfortunately, many U.S. citizens now find it difficult to purchase even a used Honda.


Editor's Note: This is just a small sampling of the stories on line within the hundreds and hundreds of pages that comprise www.GiantKillers.Org. Use our search engine to find more if this is not enough. As the evidence grows against the New Economy [AKA: Global Economy], so do the number of lost industrial jobs stateside. How long will it be till America says ENOUGH!! --Al Colombo, pubisher

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Allan B. Colombo

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